Umetarou Nozaki is a big, blunt, insensitive, muscular guy with a sharp gaze who occasionally shows up at school in a temper and covered with bandages. His classmate Chiyo Sakura, a tiny girly-girl with ribbons in her long hair, has a tremendous crush on him, but when she tells him that she’s a huge admirer, Nozaki nods matter-of-factly and hands her an autograph on fancy paper. After that, Chiyo is taken to his house without delay… to help him ink the panels on his manga manuscript. In fact, Nozaki is a well-established manga creator for a monthly girls’ magazine, best known for “her” delicate depictions of sweet teen romance under a feminine pen name. Chiyo becomes the newest member of his group of oddball assistants, and while she’s thrilled to get closer to Nozaki and help him with his work, her love life seems to be taking a decided turn towards comedy, not romance.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun is a brilliantly funny, yet gentle and affectionate spoof of the shoujo genre of manga. Shoujo is mainly geared towards girls in their teens and features school life, heterosexual romance, friendship, and growing up illustrated in a rather flowery style. It is quite a large genre and there are several recognizable types of characters and situations, such as “the utterly ordinary but cheerful and kind heroine,” “the prince/princess of the school, who is not only smart, rich and popular but is also a genuinely good person,” and “the aloof troublemaker at school who hides a warm heart underneath his tough exterior.” The in-series title Nozaki creates, “Let’s Fall (In Love),” is a straightforward example of a typical shoujo title; the main story employs the same elements but gives them comedic twists, often blending them with related but odd tropes from dating simulation games or actual issues in the creation of manga. For instance, one of the first things with which Chiyo helps Nozaki involves bicycles: riding one home from school together is standard in teen romance, with the girl holding onto the boy from the back while sitting sideways behind the saddle. Traffic safety laws have changed so that this is no longer allowed, however, and Nozaki cannot depict illegal activities in his work, so he enlists Chiyo as a second opinion on whether a tandem bike makes a suitably romantic substitute (turns out it doesn’t, but it’s great for boosting team spirit).
Nozaki-Kun excels in its comedic timing—including deadpan, slapstick, and situational humor, as well as explicit parody—and over-the-top characters who are simultaneously exaggerations of shoujo types and yet dorky, relatable persons in their own right. There is also a lot of information about the manga creation process, such as the role of the editor and the drafts a manuscript needs to go through before its publication. The format is large yonkoma (four panels), in which the panels are almost as wide as the page, so the artwork never feels cramped or oversimplified. The artwork style is standard shoujo: large eyes, generous use of screentone, sharp, neat lines, and pretty people. The translation is sound, which is really important for a humorous series; the translator, Leighann Harvey, has added notes where necessary in both the page margins and at the end of chapters. As a manga about manga, elements such as flower and sparkle effects or font changes are often used to make a point, and the font changes have been replicated in the English version.
It’s not as surreal as Azumanga Daioh, not as male-oriented as Sgt. Frog (Keroro Gunso), and not as cute as K-On!, but readers who enjoyed these titles might like Nozaki-Kun, as well as those who are familiar with the shoujo genre and those who would enjoy a light and friendly comedy with no dire situations. The age range given by the publisher is Teen. There is some slight innuendo played for laughs, but the series is funny for both guys and girls (gender-neutral hilarity). The twelve-episode animated version is also excellent (available as streaming content or on discs), but the comedic timing might be a bit quicker due to the change in format.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, vol. 1
by Izumi Tsubaki
Yen Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Teen